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quarter wide, and are deeply divided into sharp lobes. The fruit looks
like a very large green berry, being about the size of a cocoanut or
melon, and the proper time for gathering it is about a week before it is
ripe. When baked, it is not very unlike bread. It is cooked by being
cut into several pieces, which are baked in an oven in the ground. It is
often eaten with orange-juice and cocoanut-milk. Some of the South-Sea
islanders depend very much upon it for their food. The large seeds, when
roasted, are said to taste like the best chestnuts. The pulp, which is
the bread-part, is said to resemble a baked potato and is very white and
tender, but, unless eaten soon after the fruit is gathered, it grows
hard and choky."

[Illustration: THE BREAD-FRUIT.]

"So Edie's 'loaves of bread' are green?" said Malcolm, rather
teasingly.

"That's because they grow on a tree," replied Clara. "Our loaves of
bread are raw dough before they're baked, and they are grains of wheat
before they are dough."

"That is quite true, dear," replied her governess, laughing, "and we
must teach Malcolm not to be quite so critical. - The bread-fruit is a
wonderful tree, and it certainly does bear uncooked loaves of bread, at
least, for they require no kneading to be ready for the oven. The fruit
is to be found on the tree for eight months of the year - which is very
different from any of our fruits - and two or three bread-fruit trees
will supply one man with food all the year round."

"Put what does he do when there is no fresh fruit on them?" asked
Malcolm. "You told us that it was not good to eat unless it was fresh."

"We should not think it good, but the native makes it into a sour paste
called _mahé_, and the people of the islands eat this during the four
months when the fresh fruit is not to be had. The bread-fruit is said
to be very nourishing, and it can be prepared in various ways. The
timber of this tree, though soft, is found useful in building houses and
boats; the flowers, when dried, serve for tinder; the viscid, milky
juice answers for birdlime and glue; the leaves, for towels and packing;
and the inner bark, beaten together, makes one species of the
South-Sea cloth."

"What a very useful tree!" exclaimed Clara.

"It is indeed," replied Miss Harson; "and this is the case with many of
the trees found in these warm countries, where the inhabitants know
little of the arts and manufactures, and would almost starve rather than
exert themselves very greatly. There is another species of bread-fruit,
called the jaca, or jack, tree, found on the mainland of Asia, which
produces its fruit on different parts of the tree, according to its age.
When the tree is young, the fruit grows from the twigs; in middle age it
grows from the trunk; and when the tree gets old, it grows from
the roots."

[Illustration: JACK-FRUIT TREE.]

There was a picture of the jack tree with fruit growing out of the
trunk and great branches like melons, and the children crowded eagerly
around to look at it. All agreed that it was the very queerest tree they
had yet heard of.

"The fruit is even larger than that of the island bread-fruit,"
continued their governess, "but it is not so pleasant to our taste, nor
is it so nourishing. It often weighs over thirty pounds and has two or
three hundred seeds, each of which is four times as large as an almond
and is surrounded by a pulp which is greatly relished by the natives of
India. The seeds, or nuts, are roasted, like those of smaller fruit, and
make very good chestnuts. The fruit has a strong odor not very agreeable
to noses not educated to it."

"Miss Harson," said Malcolm, "what is the upas tree like, and why is it
called _deadly_?"

"It is a tree eighty feet high, with white and slightly-furrowed bark;
the branches, which are very thick, grow nearly at the top, dividing
into smaller ones, which form an irregular sort of crown to the tall,
straight trunk. There is no reason for calling it _deadly_ except a
foolish notion and the fact that a very strong poison is prepared from
the milky sap. The tree grows in the island of Java, and for a long time
many fabulous stories were told of its dangerous nature. Travelers in
that region would send home the wildest and most improbable stories of
the poison tree, until the very name of the upas was enough to make
people shudder. It is said that a Dutch surgeon stationed on the island
did much to keep up the impression. He wrote an account of the valley in
which the upas was said to be growing alone, for no tree nor shrub was
to be found near it. And he declared that neither animal nor bird could
breathe the noxious effluvia from the tree without instant death. In
fact, he called this fatal spot 'The Valley of Death.'"

"And wasn't it true, Miss Harson?"

"Not all true, Clara; some one who had spent many years in Java proved
these stories to be entirely false. Instead of growing in a dismal
valley by itself, the graceful-looking upas tree is found in the most
fertile spots, among other trees, and very often climbing plants are
twisted round its trunk, while birds nestle in the branches. It can be
handled, too, like any other tree; and all this is as unlike the Dutch
surgeon's account as possible. One of his stories was that the criminals
on the island were employed to collect the poison from the trunk of the
tree; that they were permitted to choose whether to die by the hand of
the executioner or to go to the upas for a box of its fatal juice; and
that the ground all about the tree was strewed with the dead bodies of
those who had perished on this errand."

"Oh," exclaimed Edith, "wasn't that dreadful?"

"The story was dreadful, dear, but it was only a story, you know: the
upas tree did not kill people at all; and to turn the milky juice into a
dangerous poison took a great deal of time and trouble. It was mixed
with various spices and fermented; when ready for use, it was poured
into the hollow joints of bamboo and carefully kept from the air. Both
for war and for the chase arrows are dipped in this fatal preparation,
and the effect has been witnessed by naturalists on animals, and also on
man. The instant it touches the blood it is carried through the whole
system, so that it may be felt in all the veins and causes a burning
sensation, especially in the head, which is followed by sickness
and death."

"Well," said Clara, drawing a long breath, "I'm glad that I don't live
in Java."

"The poisoned arrows are not constantly flying about in Java, dear,"
replied her governess, with a smile, "and I do not think you would be in
any danger from them; but there are a great many other reasons why it is
not pleasant, except for natives, to live in Java. There are a number of
Dutch settlers there, because the island was conquered by the Dutch
nation, but while war with the natives was going on they suffered
terribly from these poisoned arrows; so that the very name of upas
caused them to tremble. The word 'upas,' in the language of the natives,
means poison, and there is in the island a valley called the upas, or
poison, valley. It has nothing, however, to do with the tree, which does
not grow anywhere in the neighborhood. That valley may literally be
called 'The Valley of Death.' We are told that it came to exist in this
way: The largest mountain in Java was once partly buried in a very
dreadful manner. In the middle of a summer night the people in the
neighborhood perceived a luminous cloud that seemed wholly to envelop
the mountain. They were extremely alarmed and took to flight, but ere
they could escape a terrific noise was heard, like the discharge of
cannon, and part of the mountain fell in and disappeared. At the same
moment quantities of stones and lava were thrown to the distance of
several miles. Fifteen miles of ground covered with villages and
plantations were swallowed up or buried under the lava from the
mountain; and when all was over and people tried to visit the scene of
the disaster, they could not approach it on account of the heat of the
stones and other substances piled upon one another. And yet as much as
six weeks had elapsed since the catastrophe. This upas valley is about
half a mile in circumference, and the vapor that escapes through the
cracks and fissures is fatal to every living thing. Here, indeed, are to
be seen the bones of animals and birds, and even the skeletons of human
beings who were unfortunate enough to enter and were overpowered by the
deadly vapor. And now," added Miss Harson, "I have given you this
account to make you understand that the famous upas valley of Java is
not a valley of upas trees, but one of poisonous vapors."

"And the deadly upas," said Malcolm, "is not deadly, after all! I think
I shall remember that."

"And I too," said Clara and Edith, who had listened with great interest
to the description.

"Shall we have some figs now, by way of variety?" was a question that
caused three pairs of eyes to turn rather expectantly on the speaker;
for figs were very popular with the small people of Elmridge.

[Illustration: THE BANYAN TREE.]

"Not in the way of refreshments, just at present," continued their
governess, "but only as belonging to the mulberry family; and we will
begin with that curious tree the banyan, or Indian fig. This stately and
beautiful tree is found on the banks of the river Ganges and in many
parts of India, and is a tree much valued and venerated by the Hindu. He
plants it near the temple of his idol; and if the village in which he
resides does not possess any such edifice, he uses the banyan for a
temple and places the idol beneath it. Here, every morning and evening,
he performs the rites of his heathen worship. And, more than this, he
considers the tree, with its out-stretched and far-sheltering arms, an
emblem of the creator of all things."

"Is that only one tree?" asked Malcolm as Miss Harson displayed a
picture that was more like a small grove. "Why, it looks like two or
three trees together."

"Does it grow up from the ground or down from the air?" asked Clara.
"Just look at these queer branches with one end fast to the tree and the
other end fast to the ground!"

Edith thought that the branches which had not reached the ground looked
like snakes, but, for all that, it was certainly a grand tree.

"The peculiar growth of the banyan," continued Miss Harson, "renders it
an object of beauty and produces those column-like stems that cause it
to become a grove in itself. It may be said to grow, not from the seed,
but from the branches. They spread out horizontally, and each branch
sends out a number of rootlets that at first hang from it like slender
cords and wave about in the wind. - Those are your 'snakes,' Edith. - But
by degrees they reach the ground and root themselves into it; then the
cord tightens and thickens and becomes a stem, acting like a prop to the
widespreading branch of the parent plant. Indeed, column on column is
added in this manner, the books tell us, so long as the mother-tree can
support its numerous progeny."

"How very strange!" said Clara. "The mulberry seems to have some very
funny relations."

"Such a great tree ought to bear very large figs," added Malcolm.

"On the contrary," replied his governess, "it bears uncommonly small
ones - no larger than a hazel-nut, and of a red color. They are not
considered eatable by the natives, but birds and animals feed upon them,
and in the leafy bower of the banyan are found the peacock, the monkey
and the squirrel. Here, too, are a myriad of pigeons as green as the
leaf and with eyes and feet of a brilliant red. They are so like the
foliage in color that they can be seen only by the practiced eye of the
hunter, and even he would fail to detect them were it not for their
restless movements. As they flutter about from branch to branch they are
apt to fall victims to his skill in shooting his arrows."

"If they would only keep still!" exclaimed Edith, who felt a strong
sympathy for the green pigeons. "Poor pretty things! Why don't they,
Miss Harson, instead of getting killed?"

"They do not know their danger until it is too late, and it is quite as
hard for them to keep still as it is for little girls."

Edith wondered if that meant her; she was a little girl, but she did not
think she was so very restless. However, Miss Harson didn't tell her,
and she soon forgot it in listening to what was said of the queer tree
with branches like snakes.

"The leaves of the banyan tree are large and soft and of a very bright
green, and the deep shade and pillared walks are so welcome to the Hindu
that he even tries to improve on Nature and coax the shoots to grow just
where he wishes them. He binds wet clay and moss on the branch to make
the rootlet sprout."

"Will it grow then?" asked Malcolm.

"Yes, just as a cutting planted in the earth will grow, although it
seems a very odd style of gardening. - The sacred fig tree of
India - _Ficus religiosa_ - is a near relative of the banyan, and very
much like it in general appearance; but the leaves are on such slender
stalks that they tremble like those of the aspen. It is known as the bo
tree of Ceylon, and is said to have been placed in charge of the priests
long before the present race of inhabitants had appeared in the island."

"Where do the real figs grow?" asked Clara.

"In a great many moderately warm or sub-tropical countries," was the
reply, "but Smyrna figs are the most celebrated. Immense quantities of
the fruit are dried and packed in Asiatic Turkey for exportation from
this city, and it is said that in the fig season nothing else is talked
about there."

"I didn't know that they were dried," said Malcolm, in great surprise;
"I thought they were just packed tight in boxes and then sent off."

[Illustration: LEAF AND FRUIT OF THE FIG TREE.]

"'In its native country,'" read Miss Harson, "'and when growing on the
tree, the fig presents a different appearance from the dried and packed
specimens we see in this country. It is a firm and fleshy fruit, and
has a delicious honey-drop hanging from the point.' And here," she
added, "is a small branch from the fig tree, with fruit growing on it."

"Why, it's shaped like a pear!" exclaimed Malcolm.

"And what large, pretty leaves it has!" said Clara.

"'The fig tree is common in Palestine and the East,'" Miss Harson
continued to read, "'and flourishes with the greatest luxuriance in
those barren and stony situations, where little else will grow. Its
large size and its abundance of five-lobed leaves render it a pleasant
shade-tree, and its fruit furnishes a wholesome food very much used in
all the lands of the Bible.' Figs were among the fruits mentioned in the
'land that flowed with milk and honey,' and it was a symbol of peace and
plenty, as you will find, Malcolm, by reading to us from First Kings,
fourth chapter, twenty-fifth verse."

"'And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under
his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of
Solomon.' - That's what it means, then!" said Malcolm, when he had
finished reading the verse. "I've heard people say, 'Under your own vine
and fig tree,' and I couldn't tell what they meant."

"Yes," replied his governess, "some persons make very free with the
words of Holy Scripture and twist them to suit meanings for which they
were not intended. Having a house of one's own is usually meant by this
quotation, and almost the same words are repeated in other parts of the
Old Testament. The fig is often mentioned in the Bible, and two kinds
are spoken of - the very early fig, and the one that ripens late in the
summer. The early fig was considered the best; and I think that Clara
will tell us what is said of it by the prophet Jeremiah."

Clara read slowly:

"'One basket had very good figs, _even like the figs that are first
ripe_; and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be
eaten, they were so bad[16].'"

[16] Jer. xxiv. 2.

"But can figs be naughty, Miss Harson?" asked Edith, with very
wide-open eyes. "I thought that only children were naughty,"

"There are 'naughty' grown people as well as naughty children," was the
reply, "and inanimate things like figs in old times were called naughty
too, in the sense of being bad. - The fruit of the fig tree appears not
only before the leaves, but without any sign of blossoms, the flowers
being small and hidden in the little buttons which first shoot out from
the points of the sterns, and around which the outer and firm part of
the fig grows. The leaves come out so late in the season that our
Saviour said, 'Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is
yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh[17].'
Did not our Lord say something else about a fig tree?"

[17] Matt. xxiv. 32.

"Yes," replied Clara; "the one that was withered away because it had no
figs on it."

"The barren fig tree which was withered at our Saviour's word, as an
awful warning to unfruitful professors of religion, seems to have spent
itself in leaves. It stood by the wayside, free to all, and, as the time
for stripping the trees of their fruit had not come - for in Mark we are
told that 'the time of figs was not yet[18]' - it was reasonable to
expect to find it covered with figs in various stages of growth. Yet
there was 'nothing thereon, but leaves only.' Find the nineteenth verse
of the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, Malcolm, and read what is
said there."

[18] Mark xi. 13.

"'And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found
nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on
thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.'"

"A fig tree having leaves," said Miss Harson, "should also have figs,
for these, as I have already told you, appear before the leaves, and
both are on the tree at the same time; so that, although unripe figs are
seen without leaves, leaves should not be seen without figs; and if it
was not yet the season for figs, it was not the season for leaves
either. The barren fig tree has often been compared to people who make a
show of goodness in words, but leave the doing of good works to others;
and when anything is expected of them, there is sure to be
disappointment. 'Nothing but leaves' has become a proverb; and when it
can be used to express the barren condition of those who profess to
follow the teachings of our Lord, it is sad indeed."

"Do fig trees grow wild?" asked Clara, presently.

"Yes," was the reply, "and very curious-looking things they are. 'Their
roots twist into all kinds of whimsical contortions, so as to look more
like a mass of snakes than the roots of a tree. They unite themselves so
closely to the substances that come in their way, such as the face of
rocks, or even the stems of other trees, that nothing can pull them
away. And in some parts of India these strong, tough roots are made to
serve the purpose of bridges and twisted over some stream or cataract.
The wild fig is often a dangerous parasite, and does not attain
perfection without completing some work of destruction among its
neighbors in the forest. A slender rootlet may sometimes be seen hanging
from the crown of a palm. The seed was carried there by some bird that
had fed upon the fruit of a wild fig, and it rooted itself with
surprising facility. The rootlet, as it descends, envelops the
column-like stem of the palm with a woody network, and at length reaches
the ground. Meanwhile, the true stem of the parasite shoots upward from
the crown of the palm. It sends out numberless rootlets, each of which,
as soon as it reaches the ground, takes root; and between them the palm
is stifled and perishes, leaving the fig in undisturbed possession. The
parasite does not, however, long survive the decline; for, no longer fed
by the juices of the palm, it also, in process of time, begins to
languish and decline.'"

"What a mean thing it is!" exclaimed Malcolm - "as mean as the cuckoo,
that lays its eggs in other birds' nests. And I'm glad it dies when it
has killed the palm tree; it just serves it right. But don't figs ever
grow in this country, Miss Harson?"

"Yes," replied his governess; "they are cultivated in the Southern
States and in California, like many other semi-tropical fruits, and are
principally eaten fresh, but for drying they are not equal to the
imported ones. No doubt the cultivation of figs in California will
become a prosperous trade, for the climate and circumstances there are
much like those of Syria."

[Illustration: DWARF FIG TREE IN A POT.]



CHAPTER XIII.

_QUEER RELATIONS: THE CAOUTCHOUC AND THE MILK TREE_.

"What dark, strange-looking trees!" exclaimed the children while looking
at an illustration of caoutchouc trees in Brazil. "How thick and strong
they are! And what funny tops! - like pointed umbrellas."

"The India-rubber tree is not likely to be mistaken for any other," said
their governess, "and it does not look very dark and gloomy in that
forest, where everything seems to be crowded close and in a tangle,
because South American vegetation grows so thickly and rapidly. This is
the country which supplies the largest quantity of India-rubber. Immense
cargoes are shipped from the town of Para, on the river Amazon, and
obtained from the _Siphonia elastica_."

"Are the stems all made of India-rubber?" asked Edith, who thought that
was exactly what they looked like.

"Are the stems of the maple trees made of maple-sugar?" replied Miss
Harson. "The India-rubber is got from its tree as the sugar is from the
maple tree. It is taken from the trunk in the shape of a very thick
milky fluid, and it is said that no other vital fluid, whether in animal
or in plant, contains so much solid material within it; and it is a
matter of surprise that the sap, thus encumbered, can circulate through
all the delicate vessels of the tree. Tropical heat is required to form
the caoutchouc; for when the tree is cultivated in hothouses, the
substance of the sap is quite different. The full-grown trees are very
handsome, with round column-like trunks about sixty feet high, and the
crown of foliage is said to resemble that of the ash."

"Did people always know about India-rubber?" asked Clara.

"No indeed! It is not more than a hundred and fifty years - perhaps not
so long - since it was a great curiosity; so that a piece half an inch
square would sell in London for nearly a dollar of our money, but now it
comes in shiploads, and a pound of it costs less than quarter of that
sum. It is used for so many purposes that it seems as if the world could
never have gone on without it. All sorts of outside garments to keep out
the rain are made of it. Waterproof cloaks are called macintoshes in
England because this was the name of the person who invented them.
India-rubber is also used for tents and many other things, and, as water
cannot get through it, there is a great saving of trouble and expense."

"It must be splendid for tents," said Malcolm; "no one need care, when
snug under cover, whether or not it rained in the woods."

"People do care, though," was the reply, "for they expect, when in the
woods, to live out of doors; but the India-rubber is certainly a great
improvement on tents that get soaked through."

"I like it," said Edith, "because it rubs things out. When I draw a
house and it's all wrong, my piece of India-rubber will take it away,
and then I can make another one on the paper."

"That is the very smallest of its uses," replied Miss Harson, smiling at
the little girl's earnestness, "and yet we find it a great convenience.
An English writer, speaking of it when it was first known in England,
said that he had seen a substance that would efface from paper the marks
of a black-lead pencil, and he thought it must be of use to those who
practiced drawing."

"How funny that sounds!" exclaimed Malcolm. "Why, I couldn't get along
without my India-rubber when I make mistakes,"

"You might," said his governess, "if you had some stale bread to rub
with; for people _have_ gotten along without a great many things which
they now think necessary."

"Miss Harson," said Clara, "won't you tell us, please, how they get the
caoutch - whatever it is - and make it into India-rubber?"

"I will," was the laughing reply, "when you can say the word properly.
C-a-o-u-t-c-h-o-u-c - koochook."

As Clara said, Miss Harson made things so easy to understand! and in a
very short time the hard word was mastered.

"As I have never seen the sap gathered," continued the young lady, "I
shall have to read you an account of it, instead of telling you from my


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Online LibraryElla Rodman ChurchAmong the Trees at Elmridge → online text (page 9 of 15)